What’s a Macchiato?

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When it comes to coffee, there are can be a lot of confusion. Most coffee drinkers know a macchiato contains espresso and a small amount of milk, but this only tells us part of the story.

So what exactly is a macchiato? And how does it differ from a cappuccino or cafe latte? And should they always come with milk or foam? And what about long and short macchiatos?

Keep reading for the history, comparisons, and instructions on how to make a macchiato at home.

So what Is a Macchiato?

The macchiato is undoubtedly one of the most confusing coffee orders on the menu.

Not only do baristas not agree on what they are, but consumers often have their own ideas as well. Add to that the variations such as long-macc and short-macc and you end up with a bit of a mess.

Let’s go back to basics.

Macchiato is an Italian word meaning “stain” or “mark.” From this, we interpret that the milk is to stain the espresso, in contrast to something like a cappuccino where it is almost completely covered.

However, as you can probably imagine, the amount of milk involved in this process is open to interpretation. And this is where things tend to get a bit confusing.

Here is the generally accepted definition: A shot of espresso with 1-2 teaspoons of steamed milk and foam, served in a 90ml glass.

A macchiato, short macchiato, or espresso macchiato

This version of the drink is also called a short macchiato or an espresso macchiato.

The macchiato should present a compromise between the espresso and cappuccino drinks. It is stronger than your standard cappuccino but isn’t as strong as an espresso shot.

One common way that this drink differs between coffee shops or baristas relates to the milk. While some baristas will use a small amount of steamed milk and a dollop of foam, others will only use foam.

We’ll cover some other versions of the drink later on.

History of the Macchiato

As with most other espresso terms, the name comes from Italian. As mentioned above, macchiato means “marked” or “stained” in Italian.

The macchiato was likely created in Italy in the 1980s, when baristas began adding a small amount of milk to espresso.

The Portuguese have a similar drink called a café pingado, which means coffee with a drop of milk.

Since its creation, the macchiato has morphed into many other drinks found around the world but most can be tied back to the original version in some way or another.

Macchiato topped up

In Australia, it is common to order a ‘Macchiato topped up”.

A traditional short macchiato has just a little bit of milk in it (usually a teaspoon), so the drink is often left to interpretation.

If you order a topped up macchiato at your local coffee shop, you’ll receive a short macchiato that has been topped up with more foamed milk and creates a more frothy and creamy drink.

But most importantly, it isn’t as strong as the regular one because there’s more milk than coffee in it – perfect if a regular macc tastes too much like espresso for your liking.

The Long Macc

Another Australian invention, a long macchiato is made with a double espresso shot (60ml) followed by steamed milk and foam, just like the regular version.

The main difference between a short macchiato and a long macchiato is that the short has only one shot of espresso, while the long has two.

The presentation differs, too; the short is generally served in a smaller glass than the longer version. A long macc is served in a bigger glass—220ml—to allow room for more milk.

Long Macc Topped Up

Yep, we’re really going down the rabbit hole here.

Native to Western Australia, the long macc topped up is two shots of espresso, topped up with extra steamed milk and foam.

Some people say this is exactly the same as a double shot latte.

We’re going to stay out of this debate.

Latte macchiato

Less common in Australia, the latte macchiato is yet another twist on this popular drink.

The name is a play on the traditional macchiato. However, instead of the milk staining the espresso, in this case, the espresso stains the milk.

Importantly, this means the order in which the ingredients are added to the glass is reversed.

To make a latte macchiato, you first froth milk, then pour it into a glass, and finally add espresso to the frothed milk.

A Latte Macchiato

Frothing for this drink yields significant foam, which is generally “dry”, meaning that it consists of large bubbles with little liquid in the bubbles.

Layering is an important aspect of the latte macchiato.

In adding the espresso shot to the milk, baristas will often use the back of a spoon or other techniques to ensure a slow, gentle pour.

Caramel macchiato

The Starbucks caramel macchiato is one of their signature drinks.

It starts with vanilla-flavoured syrup and freshly steamed milk. A shot of espresso is then added, which gives the drink its intense flavour. The drink is topped with velvety-rich foam and finished with buttery caramel drizzle for sweetness.

The caramel macchiato is served in a tall glass and the customer has the option to add extras such as whipped cream.

Macchiato vs Cortado

A cortado is a drink of equal parts espresso and steamed milk, with no froth. It originates from Spain and remains a favourite coffee drink of the Spaniards.

There are two key differences between these two coffee drinks:

  1. A cortado uses steamed, textured milk, but no milk froth
  2. A cortado has slightly more milk, however the ratios become similar if your macchiato is “topped up”

Macchiato vs Piccolo

The piccolo latte has been a favourite of coffee lovers for over two decades now, and has become part of Australian coffee culture.

A piccolo is made by topping up a single shot of espresso to the brim of its 100ml demitasse cup with steamed milk, which is similar to a typical latte.

However, traditionally the piccolo was made with a double ristretto, which gives the coffee extra body and flavour intensity.

The main difference between a piccolo and a macchiato is that the former has lower coffee to milk ratio.

A piccolo will also have steamed, textured milk, as opposed to milk froth, which gives it a more velvety texture.

Think of it as a smaller, stronger version of a latte.

How to Make a Macchiato

  1. Grind your coffee to an espresso fine consistency. It should be freshly roasted in order to get the best results.
  2. Pull a single espresso shot into 90ml glass, making sure to yield around 30ml of volume.
  3. Pour milk into your pitcher, then froth it with the steam wand. Once you have the desired consistency, turn off the wand and clean it.
  4. Spoon about a teaspoon of frothed milk over your espresso shot.
  5. Enjoy!

Caffeine content of a Macchiato

The amount of caffeine in your macchiato coffee will be determined by the amount of espresso that is used.

A single shot of espresso contains roughly 30-50mg of caffeine, according to the National Coffee Association (NCA).